– updated 11.03.06
British officials stand accused of being party to the abuse of a Guantanamo detainee after his arrest and before his transfer to the prison camp.
The claim is made in a statement buried among thousands of pages of documents that have been unclassified and released under the freedom of information act (FOIA) by the US department of defense (DoD).
The detainee was arrested in Zambia and says that, during the time he was being questioned by Zambian, American and British officials, he was “physically and mentally intimidated and abused.”
He was transferred to Guantanamo by 2003. The inmate, a Kuwaiti who says that he is married with at least one son, made the claim about the abuse in a hand-written statement to a “combatant status review tribunal”. He is only identified in the documents as “detainee”.
He wrote: “Since having been picked up by the Zambian authorities on the instructions of the American government, I have been denied my rights, physically and mentally intimidated and abused: from the time I was being questioned by the Zambian, Americans and British in Africa, denied legal rights, abducted and brought to Guantanamo Bay.
“Since arriving here, the intimidation, verbal abuse, racial abuse has been forthcoming.”
“Only now, today, 25.09.04, have I realised that I must overcome my fears because I see now that the Americans will not and have not allowed me access to my real lawyers who are taking instructions from my sisters.
“I see also that they will not allow me to have a fair trial, and, as such, I see and know that the duress and mistreatment that I am incurring shall not stop until they (the America government) gets the result they want.
“I am, however, no longer afraid and no longer care or fear for the consequences.”
“I retract everything I ever said from the time the Zambian authorities picked me up on order from the Americans until now, 25.09.04, because of the fact it was obtained by excessive duress.”
His statement was read to the tribunal, but he refused to answer any questions from it, saying: “You denied me access to witnesses who know the reason I went to Africa.”
“So you want answers to something, but yet you won’t let me [get] answers to something.” He adds that he does not wish to say anything further to his statement.
The tribunal classified him as an enemy combat-ant. But he later went before an “administrative review tribunal”, which decides whether an inmate should be released.
He tells that tribunal: “I hope this tribunal is a fair one. I’ve already been classified as an enemy combatant, but from what I know of the American justice system, a person is innocent until they are proven guilty. Right now, I’m guilty trying to prove my innocence. This is something I haven’t heard of in a justice system.”
The tribunal president says: “This is a non-judicial proceeding. It is an administrative, legal proceeding. We come here with an open mind to determine if you have been properly classified as an enemy combatant.” The documents do not state this tribunal’s outcome.
Another detainee, Quari Esmhatulla, of Afghan-istan, aged just 16 when he was taken to Guantanamo, tells an administrative review tribunal held three years later that Afghan forces arrested him and tried to beat a confession out of him.
He tells the tribunal: “I heard my captors talk about receiving a bounty from American forces for people they captured.”
“After being arrested, I was beaten and suffered a head injury that my captors told the Americans I had received during the war. My head injury occurred as a result of being beaten by Afghani guards, and not as a result of the war.”
He admitted to Afghan soldiers that he had agreed to join the Taleban to fight in the Jihad. But he says that the soldiers forced him to confess to this by beating him with the butt of a gun.
“When I saw my head cracked and I started to faint, I could not tolerate a beating for a second time, so I admitted to all they asked.”
Asked whether he was ever mistreated at Guant-anamo, he replies: “I have been shackled for long periods of time once in a while, but I have not been beaten here.”
However, at Guantanamo, he was left traumatised by the earlier experience. “That fear and those difficulties echoed in my head at all times.”
Again, the documents do not state the tribunal’s outcome.
The mountain of material, which an American judge ordered to be released under US FOIA, makes clear the arbitrary nature of the jailing of suspects at Guantanamo – and its cruelty.
Bisher al Rawi, a British resident whose family fled from Iraq to the UK in the 1980’s and whose father was tortured by Saddam Hussein’s regime, was arrested in 2002 with his brother, Wahab, while on a business trip to Gambia. He says that he was there to set up a plant to process peanut oil.
Wahab was later released, but Bisher was acc-used of harbouring Abu Qatada, the Jordanian cleric described by the US military as Osama bin Laden’s Europe representative in London, and of transporting parts of a weapon of mass destruction.
But Bisher says that the equipment was a battery charger. He also says that he regularly provided information to the security service, MI5, about muslim extremists in Britain.
“On more than once occasion, after MI5 question-ed me, I would go out to the community to find the answers,” he says. “On three or four occasions, the questions involved Abu Qatada.”
When Bisher appears before a “combatant status review tribunal”, its president tells him: “The British government didn’t say they didn’t have a relationship with you, they just would not confirm or deny it. That means I only have your word.”
That refusal was enough, he says, not to accept the claim.
British intelligence agencies, like their US counter-parts, have a standard policy of refusing to confirm or deny the identities of agents.
Among other comments that shed shafts of light inside Guantanamo, Abdur Sayed Rahman, of Pakistan, was accused of being a Taleban deputy foreign minister or a military judge. But it emerges in his hearing that the deputy minister was Abdur Zahid Rahman, which sounds similar to his name.
He says: “An American told me I was wrongfully taken and in a couple of days I’d be free. I never saw that American again, and I’m still here.”
Salih Uyar, from Turkey, was accused of living with a known al-Qaeda member for two months, but he says that he was in Afghanistan sightseeing. A “primary factor” in his detention was that, at the time of his capture in Afghanistan, he was wearing a specific model of Casio watch that, the Americans say, is used in bomb making.
He tells his tribunal: “If it’s a crime to carry this watch, your own military personnel carry this watch too,” adding, “Does that mean that they’re just terrorists as well?”
The DoD puts the current number of Guantanamo detainees at 490. The US attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, during a visit to London, said on March 7 that the prison is holding only “highly dangerous people,” ranging from terrorist bomb makers to financiers, as well as potential suicide bombers. He also said that some 265 prisoners have been transferred from Guantanamo.
He added that captives objecting to the “enemy combatant” tribunals could appeal to the US courts, saying: “We are aware of no other nation in history that has afforded procedural protections like these to enemy combatants, including allowing access to civilian courts for those captured on the battlefield.”
However, the documents make clear that detain-ees are not told that they have this option despite their frequent complaints that the tribunals are unlawful.
Lawyers acting for various detainees have been searching through the mass of documents forced from the DoD under FOIA. One trend that has been identified in the transcripts is the fear of many detainees about returning home.
Many fear that, having been branded by the Americans as terrorists, they or their relatives will be tortured or killed on return to their home countries, including Saudi Arabia, China, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Algeria and Syria.
One unidentified muslim from China is recorded in a hearing transcript as telling a military tribunal that he feared returning so much that he considered trying to convince the panel that he was guilty.
“If I am sent back to China, they will torture me really bad,” he says, “They will use dogs. They will pull out my nails.”
America plans to transfer at least another 123 inmates soon. It claims that it only transfers detainees to other countries when it has assurances that they will not be tortured. However, critics question the value of such assurances.
Among the detainees identified in the newly released material are: Emad Abdalla, of Yemen; Zain Ul Abedin, of Tajikstan; Fouad al-Rabia, of Kuwait; Mesh Arsad al-Rashid of Afghanistan; Mohammed Gul, of Afghanistan; Karam Khamis Sayd Khamsan, of Yemen; Kadir Khandan, of Afghanistan; Arkin Mahmud, of China; Habib Noor, of Afghanistan; Ehsanullah Peerzaie, detained in Afghanistan; Abdul Razak, Taleban commerce minister; Hafizullah Shah, of Pakistan.
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